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Belgian presence continues to grow in Singapore

Keen to break into the Asian market and drawn by favourable regulations, Belgium businesses have contributed to the Republic's development and benefitted too.

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BLBG's Els Van Poucke notes that in the past few years, Belgian fintech and technology companies have been establishing a presence in Singapore due to the Republic's open economy and support of innovation.

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Ambassador Andy Detaille and Ms Van Poucke at BLBG's annual opening reception to kick off the new business year.

BELGIAN companies have been operating in Singapore for years with around 220 firms active in sectors such as logistics, maritime, dredging, chemicals, IT services, technology, food and beverage, banking and consultancy.

One notable project ongoing now by a Belgium company is the construction of the mega Tuas Terminal Phase 1. Belgian company Dredging International Asia Pacific (DIAP) and joint venture partner Daelim from South Korea were awarded a S$2.42 billion contract for work on phase 1 of the terminal in 2015, a massive undertaking which involves the construction of 20 deep water berths. Phase 1 is due to be completed by December 2019.

DIAP has also done large amounts of land reclamation work on Jurong Island since 1995.

Logistics company Katoen Natie is another Belgian company that has made a breakthrough in Singapore with its SuperTruck concept, together with Allied, that can carry two 40-foot or four 20-foot containers. It is also the first in Singapore to operate a driverless truck.

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"Katoen Natie has been a trailblazer in Singapore in the fields of green energy and autonomous transport. They were the first to use autonomous trucks on their site in Jurong and are the first to sell the electricity generated by the solar panels on the roof of their factory in Jurong back to the grid, through a blockchain-secured solution in cooperation with Singapore Power," says Andy Detaille, ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium in Singapore.

"Singapore is an attractive place for Belgian businesses because it is easy and fast to incorporate a company. Furthermore, the political climate is stable, the tax regime is beneficiary, the legal system is trustworthy and a transparent and highly skilled workforce is available. The fact that no corruption is tolerated in Singapore is also an important factor for Belgian companies," says Els Van Poucke, president of the Belgium Luxembourg Business Group (BLBG).

TAPPING INTO ASIA'S GROWTH

Singapore is also used as a hub for Belgian companies looking to expand into South-east Asia for its favourable regulations as well as its geographical location, according to Ms Van Poucke.

She notes that in the past few years, Belgian fintech and technology companies have been establishing a presence in Singapore due to the Republic's open economy and support of innovation.

One such company was investment and advisory firm Zephyr Ventures, which set up an office in Singapore in May 2014.

"Singapore is the gateway to many opportunities both geographically and metaphorically. Given our interest in technology businesses we wanted to be in the centre of South-east Asia, which probably contains the fastest-growing digital economies in the world. Their scale and pace of growth are enormous, but they are typically overshadowed by China and India," says Joachim Vandaele, Zephyr's managing partner.

He highlights Singapore's infrastructure which is welcoming to companies, especially startups, and its transparent tax and legal regulations that are easy to follow.

Singapore's attractiveness to businesses looking for a South-east Asian base is beneficial to Zephyr, which invests in growth companies.

"Singapore holds all cards to become a centre not just for creating new ventures, but as a centre for scaling them into international players. Value is created through scaling, and we are excited to be able to contribute to this process from the inside," adds Mr Vandaele.

He intends to recruit more people in Singapore as he foresees that the business will grow.

Another Belgian company is data platform company NGDATA, which acquired its first Singaporean client in 2016 and decided to open an office the following year to better serve its local customers and to tap into the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.

"Interest from other companies in the APAC region was growing and Singapore was the right hub for us to manage our operations in the region. Additionally, Singapore's tech scene and funding for innovative scale-ups is what made us decide on making our APAC office the centre of gravity for all our artificial intelligence (AI) developments. Consequently, we set up an AI lab in 2018," says Jens Ponnet, vice president, APAC at NGDATA.

With many companies investing in customer data platforms to leverage customer data, Mr Ponnet believes that being in Singapore is the right move for NGDATA.